Laboratory diagnosis of thalassemia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The thalassemias can be defined as α- or β-thalassemias depending on the defective globin chain and on the underlying molecular defects. The recognition of carriers is possible by hematological tests. Both α- and β-thalassemia carriers (heterozygotes) present with microcytic hypochromic parameters with or without mild anemia. Red cell indices and morphology followed by separation and measurement of Hb fractions are the basis for identification of carriers. In addition, iron status should be ascertained by ferritin or zinc protoporphyrin measurements and the iron/total iron-binding capacity/saturation index. Mean corpuscular volume and mean corpuscular hemoglobin are markedly reduced (mean corpuscular volume: 60–70 fl; MCH: 19–23 pg) in β-thalassemia carriers, whereas a slight to relevant reduction is usually observed in α-carriers. HbA2 determination is the most decisive test for β-carrier detection although it can be disturbed by the presence of δ-thalassemia defects. In α-thalassemia, HbA2 can be lower than normal and it assumes significant value when iron deficiency is excluded. Several algorithms have been introduced to discriminate from thalassemia carriers and subjects with iron-deficient anemia; because the only discriminating parameter is the red cell counts, these formulas must be used consciously. Molecular analysis is not required to confirm the diagnosis of β-carrier, but it is necessary to confirm the α-thalassemia carrier status. The molecular diagnosis is essential to predict severe transfusion-dependent and intermediate-to-mild non-transfusion-dependent cases. DNA analysis on chorionic villi is the approach for prenatal diagnosis and the methods are the same used for mutations detection, according to the laboratory facilities and expertise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-40
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Laboratory Hematology
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2016


  • carriers
  • globin chains
  • laboratory diagnosis
  • RBC
  • Thalassemia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Hematology


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